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Dog's life

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I've just returned from five months of immersion in small-town Utah life. Last August, this Durhamite took a desert leap, moving there on a whim to change careers--and scenery.

My career motive? Animal advocacy--a choice that was reinforced by the prevailing owner-property relationship to animals. In my neighborhood, small yards separated companionless barking dogs. On daily walks, I watched families' lack of interactions with their pets. House after house, I thought about those dogs; the limitations of their hot, grass-plot life, and how the hours must pass into predictable days. Worst of all, I found that the local animal shelter had no staff to answer phone calls from volunteers or potential adopters. Almost all of the animals were being euthanized. So when my neighbors across the street yelled and smacked their cowering canine, I wondered whether calling animal control would be a good thing.

I gave these episodes and the concept of animal ownership a lot of thought after discovering something called "The Guardianship Campaign." The aim is to get people to recognize animals as living beings, rather than pieces of property, by substituting the word "guardian" for the word "owner" in our language and our laws.

I soon was hired on to promote the campaign nationally. In meetings with local elected officials, we discussed ways to increase adoptions at shelters and exchanged thoughts on the philosophy that seeing animals as property can become a dangerous rationale for exploitation and abuse.

I'm now back in North Carolina for an extended visit to see if the guardian campaign has a shot in this state. So far, Boulder, Colo., North and West Hollywood, Calif., Sherwood, Ark., and the state of Rhode Island are among the places that have added the word "guardian" to their animal-related laws. I believe North Carolina is progressive enough to head in that direction and grant our furry buddies the guardianship they've always faithfully provided us.

To sign the pledge, go to www.indefenseofanimals.org/property. For more information, send e-mail to indefenseofanimals@email.com

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